Ambition is usually a valuable skill when applying for a job or changing the world, but there is also a dark side to ambition, particularly when it comes to out of work aspects of life.
There is nothing wrong with ambition; it is healthy and helpful for success at work and in life. But at the same time, with any personality trait, too much of it can have severe disadvantages for those who possess it.
If you are curious about the disadvantages of ambition, keep reading to find out more.
1) Perfectionism is the Bain of Productivity
One of the problems that people with lots of ambition struggle with is the desire to create perfect pieces of work; this focus on perfection is excellent for producing quality work but slows down progress and gets in the way of productivity.
The other night I was talking to a friend about his work, he said that he was paid by the hour for the work he completed, but there was only so much time per a client that he was allowed to do. His problem was that he wanted to create perfect reports satisfying his perfectionism and desire to do a great job. But it was also creating problems because creating the kinds of reports he wanted took too long and was getting in the way of the rest of his work.
When people desire to do good work, they sometimes focus too much on the quality and not enough on the quantity.
As an example of this, I have a friend who has been writing a book, it is vital for him to make it perfect; unfortunately, it’s been seven years, and he still hasn’t finished writing it.
Having ambition and big goals is great because it gives us something to aim for and gives meaning to the work we do. But at the same time, there are disadvantages to ambition because perfectionists have difficulties getting things done. Sometimes success depends on output rather than quality, while at the same time, more output leads to quality.
2) Difficulty Handling Criticism
Anyone ambitious will have strength in their convictions, which is to say, they believe in what they are doing. Having a strong belief in what you are doing is vital because it keeps you at the task even when it gets hard. And without this single vision, it would be challenging to stick to anything long enough to have measurable success.
Unfortunately, dedication and focus can create a sense of entitlement, making people less open to criticism. Put another way, if you’ve dedicated a year of your life to something, if someone was to say it wasn’t important or that your work sucked, you wouldn’t feel happy about it. So, when someone is dedicated to a project, it makes sense that they might get defensive about criticism.
However, the point here is that the more ambitious someone is, the more likely that criticism is going to hurt, and the more likely they are to have difficulty handling it.
For myself as a writer, some of my earlier work wasn’t good at all, but because I knew how much time I’d spent on it, I felt like I deserved more recognition. When a friend told me it wasn’t that good, it hurt my feelings and made me want to justify how great my writing was.
A disadvantage of ambition is that while a desire to do great work leads to the creation of impressive things, criticism of those creations is extra painful to the creator. The more you dedicate to something, and by necessity, ambitious people devote lots of time to their work, the more it hurts when others don’t like it.
3) Difficult With Personal Relationships
When I think of ambitious people, I tend to also think of successful people. The thing about extreme success is that it comes at the expense of everything else in one’s life. Having a big goal will take a lot of work and require compromise in other aspects of life, and one of the easiest things to forget about is relationships.
Steve Jobs is a perfect example of this; if you have seen any documentaries about him, you notice that he had a complicated relationship with his daughter. It seemed like he had no connection with her until she was older and he had built his empire. That said, I don’t know what truly happened in his relationships, but it isn’t crazy to assume that when someone is exceptionally dedicated to their work like he was, they don’t have much time for anything else.
A disadvantage of ambition is that having a single-minded focus on work or some other sort of project will always require a lot of time.
When people don’t have a lot of time, they need to drop some aspects of their lives. For ambitious people, personal relationships seem to be one thing they are willing to forget.
If you are in a relationship with an ambitious person, you might need to keep this in mind and be sure it is something you can handle.
4) Ambitious People Forget to Take Care of Themselves
As we previously discussed, ambitious people inevitably have limited time and need to disregard certain aspects of their lives that most ordinary people will take for granted. While people’s relations with others tend to be forgotten, so do people’s relationships with themselves.
If you are single-minded in your pursuits, it is easy to forget about your health. Working 60 hours a week leaves little time for sleep or exercise.
As for myself, just being busy with work, I tend to focus on short-term things, like what I can get done in a day or the week. Because of this, previous to the Christmas vacation, I wasn’t thinking much about my health; as I was more focused on getting my work done.
Over the winter break, I took some time off of work and started to think about my health. As a result, I developed some better habits, like riding my bike every day, which was something I was only able to realize I needed when life had slowed down a little.
A disadvantage of being too ambitious is that you tend to have less time, which leads to neglect in different parts of your life. An easy thing to neglect is your health, so it is often something ambitious people forget about.
5) Single-Mindedness and Myopic Focus
As we alluded to in the previous two sections, ambitious people have a single-minded focus on what they want. As a result of this, they sometimes neglect aspects of their lives that most common people think are important, including relationships and health. When focused on a single goal, the more important that becomes, the easier it is to forget about everything else.
At times, I have had a myopic focus on some of my goals; this meant I dedicated too much time to them at the expense of everything else.
Another problem was that while I was focused, I missed out on other opportunities coming my way at the time.
In another article about procrastination, I talked about a relationship that never came to pass because I was too focused on my school grades.
Singled-mindedness is helpful because it allows people to focus on one thing and do the best they can, but at the same time, it makes the world smaller and closes off opportunities and different directions that people could take.
Ambition has the disadvantage that while it helps to get things done, it closes doors to other opportunities that come people’s way. Sometimes people describe this as ‘missing the forest for the trees’, which seems like an apt description of what too much ambition can cause.
6) Jealousy of Other People’s Success
As we talked about earlier, ambitious people might not take negative feedback very well, which is expected with laser-like focus. But on the other side of that, other people’s success can be a sort of criticism of an ambitious person’s work.
A long time ago, when I had built one of my first websites, I spent a lot of time creating content for it and trying to advertise and build an audience. At the time, I had a friend who was really into atheism, and he was writing about it and getting tons of hits to his articles.
His success made me jealous because my main goal was to build a successful website and I was failing.
When working hard at something and not having the success we want, it will feel bad to see other people having more success. This doesn’t have anything to do with them, instead, it is about our ambition, and it not working out as planned.
One of the disadvantages of ambition is that it leads to jealousy when other people have more success than us. While most people want to see their friends succeed; it doesn’t feel so good when you aren’t.
7) Stress From Slow Progress
As we just talked about, seeing other people succeed often makes us feel like we aren’t doing as good as them. This even happens when we know we are doing something for the long run, which is the domain of ambitious people. However, knowing that something will take a long time and it actually taking a long time are two different things. When progress is slow, and we have high hopes for ourselves, it can create a lot of extra stress.
The more caught up in something we are, the more sure of its success we become, but like anything worth having, it takes time. The problem with slow progress is that it is stressful.
Soon after graduation, a friend and I got a sweet contract to build an interactive music video for a pretty popular band at the time.
While the project was doable, it took way longer than we both expected, and the stress was a terrible situation.
I remember working at my day job for 8 or 9 hours then staying up till two trying to get the video to work. While in the end, we were successful, the stress of the project and the free work I ended up doing made me want to avoid similar projects in the future.
A disadvantage of ambition is that while we all know our success will take time, it can get extremely stressful when it comes too slow.
8) Distorted Perception of Future and Present
While being ambitious is essential to finding the success we seek, it can also make us feel overly optimistic about the future. Simultaneously, while we could see our dedication to our work as a virtue, our friends and family might not appreciate the neglect.
When we are dedicated to something that matters a lot to us, we tend to see the world around us differently. On top of this, sometimes what we are trying to do won’t always work out, but more likely, it won’t work out as we plan it.
While this can help us get through some more challenging times, it can also distort our perception of what is happening now.
While having ambition is crucial as it can help us get through a challenging project’s ups and downs, it can also be a disadvantage when it blinds us to the actual reality around us.
9) Too Much Focus on the End Rather Than the Journey
People who are ambitious always have a goal in mind, they are charging ahead because they know where they want to go, but the risk of this is that with too much focus on the end, there is not enough concern about the here and now.
There are lots of different people in the office at my job, there are the people who are there to get a paycheque and a few people who are trying to get ahead. The difference is that the people who are there to get paid tend to disappear into the crowd, whereas the people trying to get ahead always have an agenda.
My experience is limited, but the people who are there to get ahead treat interactions with others like they have something to sell. Whereas the paycheque collectors are friendly just because.
There is nothing wrong with focusing on the end goal, but if that is all that matters, the day to day, which is what life is all about, slips away and is forgotten.
A disadvantage of ambition is that it makes every interaction about getting somewhere else rather than appreciating the experience of what is happening right now.
10) Set Too High of a Standard for Everyone
Very ambitious people have high standards for themselves, but they also have high standards for everyone else. This is alright at times because the whole team is working towards a shared goal, and the efforts of everyone is needed. But some people aren’t always up to the challenge of doing the best that is expected of them; they may only be able to do the best they expect of themselves.
When I was growing up, and my parents were running their business, my dad always talked about how the companies employees were never as ambitious as he and his wife were. For me, it was apparent why this was happening; it was his business so he could see its potential and had a stake in the outcome.
Whereas most of his employees cared about their jobs it wasn’t their company, so there wasn’t the same ownership of the outcome for them. If the company did well, they would still be an employee collecting a paycheque.
Ambitious people tend to have a goal in mind, as that is what drives their efforts, but often the people around them don’t share those same goals or care as much.
When this happens, the person with the higher standards will be let down and will have trouble understanding why the people around them failed.
A disadvantage of being ambitious is that you have high standards for yourself, and you might expect others to have similar standards, but often they don’t. When this happens, the more ambitious person is bound to be disappointed, while the less ambitious people will feel like they are under too much pressure.
Ambition is an excellent quality to have and will lead to better outcomes if placed in the right direction. However, since ambitious people are driven for success, they are also likely to be disappointed by people who don’t share their drive. This difference in outlook can lead to negative consequences like jealousy, disappointment and loneliness. While ambition can have tremendous payoffs, there are also disadvantages to it.